The Big Band Era

“You ain’t got a thing, if you ain’t got that swing…”

Hi-do-ho all you hep-cats out there!!

Vincent Lopez

Vincent Lopez

Swing was a verb that musicians used long before press agents turned it into a noun or adjective to describe both an attitude toward music and a special way of performing it. “Swing” suggests rhythm and a regular propulsive oscillation, a form of jazz that is still influencing music today. There are many instruments reinforcing the others, then other times, playing against each other and a solo instrument playing against a background. The jazz form traveled north out of New Orleans in the 1890’s and slammed into the Chicago scene in the 1920’s.

Fletcher Henderson

Fletcher Henderson

The beginnings can be traced back to Fletcher Henderson in New York and Bernie Moten in Kansas City. Fletcher and his brother Horace created the pattern for swing arrangements and was the first to train a big band to play jazz. “Sweet” bands, like Guy Lombardo, Vincent Lopez and Wayne King had ample audiences. (Lombardo’s band was still playing under the direction of his son-in-law out on Long Island and I was priviledged to see twice. My grandmother had dated Lopez years ago. Smitty, my father, took me to the Hotel Taft in Manhattan and had me tell the conductor that I was her grandchild. Lopez sat me on stage while the band played a song for me.)

Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa

In Denver 1935, things didn’t go so well. Even Goodman’s band was not well received, despite featuring trumpeter Bunny Beregan, drummer Gene Krupa and pianist Jess Stacy. When the tour hit Los Angeles, the Palomar Ballroom did not respond until Goodman let the musicians go wild with the Henderson arrangements – the crowd exploded. Jazz turned into swing and the press described it as a new form of music and Benny as the King of Swing. Bands sprung up everywhere. Bob Crosby’s “Bob-Cats” as well as Artie Shaw and Woody Herman wowed the crowds by 1939, including Igor Stravinsky.

Count Basie, his band and singer Jimmy Rushing

Count Basie, his band and singer Jimmy Rushing

In the late 1930’s, people tried to ease their depression by dancing and ballrooms became the rage, so for a large room – one needs a large band. Ellington’s and Basie’s were two of the largest and Ella Fitzgerald’s voice resounded over the crowds with her upbeat skat singing.A “big band” usually had 10 musicians or more. Jazz, which was mostly for listening, developed slowly into the swing music for dancing. Louis Armstrong started in the ’20s to help this transition along. Count Basie’s band stressed improvisation and his “One O’Clock Jump” sold over a million copies; for the era – this was unheard of.

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

The best thing at the time for a teenager was to see a Big Band in person. In New York, it was a status symbol to be present at the Paramount [opened in 1926] seeing the Benny Goodman band strike out with “Let’s Dance.” Lines formed to get in and school rooms would be half empty for the priviledge. N.Y. and Chicago weren’t the only places to go. Lakeside Park in Dayton, Ohio saw Herbie Kaye, featuring Dorothy Lamour and Phil Harris had his singer, Leah Ray. Jimmy Dorsey brought Helen O’Connell and Alvino Rey had his electric guitar; the first amplified instrument for many.

Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman

Playing in a dance band was one way a student in college during the ’30s could help finance their education; some continued afterwards. The Blue Devils of Duke U. had Les Brown, an undergraduate to lead them. (Better known to many as Dean Martin’s house band on TV.) The Univ. of North Carolina produced Hal Kemp and later on, Kay Keyer’s student band. The music of Alton Glen Miller, out of Clarinda, Iowa, is still considered today as the anthem of this musical age, had put himself through two years at Columbia Univ. by playing in a student band. Though he never took a musical course, he later studied with Prof. Joseph Schillinger and “Moonlight Serenade” was born out of an arrangement exercise. When Ben Pollack hired him in 1925, the shy star and the ‘Miller Sound’ were born.

Glen Miller

Glen Miller

Whether listening to the radio broadcast from the Grand Terrace Cafe in Chicago, the “society” bands at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto or Mark Hopkins in San Fransico, the swing fad became more popular than rock is today. Saturday nights supplied listeners with “Your Hit Parade” reviewing the top ten smashes of the week, such as: “String of Pearls,” “Begin the Bequin,” and “Green Eyes.” Spike Jones had the kids moving to the beat and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” shook the rafters. The music and the bands entered the movie business and the jukebox became the best sound system when concerts weren’t available.

Ella Fitzgerald at Roseland Ballroom

Ella Fitzgerald at Roseland Ballroom

The Big Band Era basically ran from 1935 to 1946 (according to historians) and is a major part of cultural history in many countries. But, Shep Fields and his ‘Rippling Rhythm’ played the famous Roseland Ballroom in 1931 and Grosssinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel in ’33. By 1941, he removed the brass section, making it an all-reed group as ‘Fields and His New Music’, featuring Ken Curtis. Curtis was better known as one of the ‘Sons of the Pioneers,’ replacing Sinatra in the Dorsey band and for playing Festus Hagen on TV’s “Gunsmoke.”

Coming out of the ’30’s, the name Harry Haag James can not be avoided. Even as Warner Bros. made the movie “Young Man With a Horn,” based on the life of Bex Beiderbecke, James played the trumpet solos while Kirk Douglas mimed on the screen. The hot trumpeter became the most imaginative and sought after musician in modern history, but Lawrence Welk thought he was too loud for his band when James tried-out. By writing a novelty number called “Peckin'” he started a new dance craze. With WWII, his sentimental phase started and “You Made Me Love You” became his first hit record. The ever-famous closing song for so many bands, “Goodnight Sweetheart” was written by the British bandleader Ray Noble, and ironically, so was the tune “Cherokee” recorded by Count Basie and Charlie Barnett.

Peggy Gilbert 1930s

Peggy Gilbert 1930s

The female vocalists with the bands were called “canaries”, but unknown to many, there quite a few all-girl bands during this era as well. A prime example was ‘The International Sweethearts of Rhythm.’ They emerged out of the south with such popularity that they toured Europe after completing the U.S. route. Bandleader Peggy Gilbert continued playing into 1995 at the age of 90. Prairie View College in Texas started all-girl bands to make up for the shortage of men during the war years. The military, with the USO, featured female swing band tours to entertain the troops. The ‘Sharon Rogers All-Girl Band’ went to the Philippines, Korea and Japan.

Peggy at her 100th birthday, 2005

Peggy at her 100th birthday, 2005

In 1941, Stan Kenton came along, but so did WWII and a strike called in 1942 by the American Federation of Musicians. Les Brown suddenly became more popular with his creamy but lively style. Ballads emerged with lyrics and solo singers; music as a whole was moving on. In 1946, within just a few weeks, eight of the greatest swing bands broke up; Goodman and Dorsey included. A progressive hard-edged version of jazz took over with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in the lead.

No one truly ever recorded the greatest arrangements of the age because the old microphones could not transmit sound with the complete amplitude and fidelity. Modern engineers have been able to rediscover some of the sounds that went into the mikes and transmitted on the master discs, but not onto the vinyl records for distribution.

Resources: “An Introduction to the Swing Era” and “The Swing Era” by Time-Life Records; All that Jazz.history; “When Swing Was King” by John R. Tumpak; “Swing Shift” by Sherrie Tucker; FSU World Music; Big Bands.com; youtube.com; Wikipedia.

Original written for Judy Hardy at Greatest Generation Lessons, this has been updated.

Who are your favorites?

Click on images to enlarge.

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Home Front Humor – navy

ajeep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courtesy of Chris from Muscleheaded – his site is well-worth the visit!!

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Farewell Salutes – 

Rebecca Brandon – Anchorage, AK; US Army, Vietnam, 2nd Lt., nurse, 3rd Field Hospital

Warren Deppe – W.Salem, OR; US Navy, WWII, PTOWWII Memorial poem at Arlington Cemetery

George Fletcher – Victoria, CAN; RC Air Force & RAF, WWII, US Air Force, Lt. Colonel (Ret.)

Fred Glasser – Omaha, NE; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 188th/11th A/B

Keith Light – Sydney, AUS; Royal Marines (Ret. 28 years), WWII

Damocles Lopez – Pensecola, FL; Merchant Marine, WWII

Morganne McBeth – Fredericksburg, VA; US Army, Iraq, 82nd A/B

Margaret Napier – Manawautu, NZ; RNZ Air Force # W4911, WWII

Ernest ‘Ray’ Olson – Tracy, MN; US Navy, WWII

William Shaffer – Broomall, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 472nd Artillery

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 13, 2015, in Home Front, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 119 Comments.

  1. Love the era. I’ve mentioned that Mr. Wayfarer and I met swing dancing. =) Peggy looks amazing at 100!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoy my visit her.Music makes my day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My favorite Big Band was Gary Lee, in Dallas, TX. Great sound, great spirit. For many years, the choice of swing lovers. Proud to say he is my brother-in-law.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You really made this era in music come alive !

    Like

  5. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I’m out of breath just watching all that dancing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great article! My kids and I danced to the video. 🙂

    Like

  7. Excellent post gp, don’t think you missed anyone out of that fantastic lineup, damned if I wasn’t born too late, that music really began to define the music scene in America and expanded to other country’s.
    Now do some more homework mate,and see what you can dig up on the birth of Jazz and Trumpet playing,from your deep South area.
    All that music actually played a role in the celebrations after the war years I think.

    Like

    • I am not an expert in music – that is one thing for certain [that’s why you see so many references at the bottom], but we all know Jazz started in New Orleans, LA. The trumpet however I had to look up and dates back to 1500 BC, so I venture to say that our Deep South can not take credit for that. 🙄

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Have always liked jazz and the big band sounds. Glenn Miller was a favorite of mine growing up, along with Lawrence Welk.Those were the days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember the Welk TV show. I used to stay glued to the screen until Joann Castle came on to play her ragtime piano!! Jeez I’d go wild listening to her!! Then a place I worked was near a piano store and who walks in? I couldn’t believe it, Joann Castle as I live and breathe!

      Liked by 1 person

      • What a cool, surprise visitor from the Welk show. Lucky you! I grew up playing the accordion and piano, so it was a natural to follow that show. A one, and a two….

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        • Just happened to be at the right place at the right time – too bad every day can’t be like that. I did try to learn piano, but could not get the hang of reading music and applying it to my fingers, so I have great respect for anyone who can!!

          Like

  9. This was a wonderful trip down memory lane. I love them all, but if I had to choose it would be Glenn Miller and his big band, especially “In The Mood”.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Man – I really enjoyed putting my favourites together;
    Artie Shaw – “Begin The Beguine”
    Benny Goodman Orchestra – “Sing, Sing, Sing”
    Gene Krupa & His Orchestra: “Wire Brush Stomp”
    Anything by Alvino Rey (but love”St. Louis Blues” with Stringy the talking steel guitar!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPd9cxqKCVg
    More upbeat vibe
    Big Sid’ Catlett & His Orchestra – “Crazy Riffin'”
    Cab Calloway – “We The Cats Shall Hep Ya”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Gustav – that’s quite a handsome variety you picked. That music should always be around, so many other “new” types of music are merely variations on the same themes.

      Like

  11. Reblogged this on The Linden Chronicles: The Wolf's Moon by Patrick Jones and commented:
    Great blast from the past!

    Like

  12. Lved the video, gp! and the exchanges! good to read about them good ole days. so refreshing.

    Like

  13. The big band era, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_band, lasted for nearly 50 years and produced a multitude of memorable songs and memories. Couples went out dancing in the in such places as the Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans and other venues. Resorts and amusement parks had ball rooms such as Elitch Gardens’ open-air Trocadero Ballroom in Denver, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elitch_Gardens. There was a romance to it.

    Like

    • Yes, there was. I thank you for adding to the data here for this. I was planning on continuing the story either between 1943-44 or 1944-45, but it seems I won’t need to now!! Glad to see I instilled some curiosity in you for this topic and the research continued…

      Liked by 1 person

      • The research never stops, GP. I just never sure in what direction it might go. This morning it also went off as follows: Here’s something of which few people are aware: “The United States Marines in North China 1945 — 1949”: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/usmchist/nochina.txt.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Whoa!! I had known they were there, but not quite to THAT extent. Thank you very much for this, Alan, it is very interesting. The lines at the end pretty much sealed our fate, eh?:
          The Communists, concerned
          solely with their drive to conquer China, did not choose to meet the Marines
          head on. Once they were secure in their control of the mainland, however, the
          time of that encounter was not long delayed. In November 1950, they met the
          Marines again, this time in full-scale battle, in the rugged hills of North
          Korea.

          Like

        • PS. you are so right about the research never stopping – so much went on in all the little nooks and crannies of the world!!

          Like

  14. I have always really enjoyed all kinds of music, big band included and have a few cd’s . This was a wonderful and informative history of big band.I enjoyed it very much.

    Joy to you

    Like

  15. liked your post about the big bands. My father taught me how to dance to those sounds. I must have been under 5 when he put my feet on his feet and danced me around the living room. My mother and father used to dance to tunes on the radio and record player in the evening. My mother showed me how to jitterbug, showed all the neighbor hood kids also. Lots of fun in those days, with no TV and definitely only a 2 party line phone. and no one called in the evening, it wasn’t polite to call after 8 or so. In the winter We read, played games and listened to records and the radio. that was after studying and dishes were done. In the summer we played outside until the street lights came on, then came in and read, played games, etc. lots of fun and quiet times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can see you had one terrific childhood, Berry. The kids today might not understand, but you had it as childhood was meant to be!! Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

      Like

  16. That is real music not like the rubbish dished out to the poor youngsters of today. The music I grew up with, loved it then love it still!

    Like

  17. The Big Band era lasted well enough beyond 1946 here for me to recall all the main bands. Glen Miller remains a favourite.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. A collection of real classics there. Some of it still around today.

    Like

  19. Before my time…but this was fun to read!
    And I enjoy watching old movies that include the bands and musicians and dancers of this time period.
    HUGS!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. My mother loved Glenn Miller. And she loved dancing. I grew up with a lot of these names in the background and Elvis was never heard at home! I loved Satchmo. It would be wonderful if these names came round again in the modern era.

    Like

    • I don’t think it’s possible for those to die, Andrew – not as long as people enjoy music and get out there and dance!! Movies still use that music and students learn from the classics (and not just Bach)!! Thanks for sharing your mom’s favorite.

      Like

  21. Pin-up girls? Now that’s a thought — and while we’re there, how about a few samples of the artwork on some of those bombers and things? (One tends to underestimate the importance of such 🙂 … love those cartoons, especially the guy doing his knots~!)

    Like

  22. I have to comment – if only to get a B. Goodman in the comments!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. And for you to have been on that stage…. How cool!

    Like

  24. A super historical piece, gpcox! My friend’s mother was a big-band singer and his father tracked her back down after war’s end. She was still singing. (I wrote about his father, a B-29 pilot.)

    While (ahem) slightly before my time, I still love Benny Goodman’s tunes. So distinctive and from a period of world war. They hold a special place in my heart.

    No, I’m not being sexist in the least but it would be interesting to read about the importance of pin-up girls during the war.

    Like

  25. My Mother’s music. It was wonderful!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. This was a wonderfully fun change up from the norm over here but well received by this guy. I remember listening to records by these artists in the late 50s and early 60s. My father’s favorite collection was The Benny Goodman Story and I think it inspired my brother to take up the clarinet. I was not musically inclined but I loved listening to those albums.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. This was such a fun post to read. It brought back so many memories of my mother who lived during a time in Kansas City where that was your entertainment – dancing!!!!! By the time I was 5 years old I knew all the Dorsey brothers music and could jitterbug to “Going to Kansas City” with the best of them. I wish she was alive to read this. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, reading everyone’s memories today have been outstanding! Music means so much to every generation, but during WWII I think it really carried them away to another dimension. Thank you for sharing and I’m sorry we are without your mother.

      Like

  28. Nice post. While the era was a little before my time, a lot of the greats were still going strong when I was stagehanding. The Duke, the Count, Ella. Great memories. Thank you, G.P..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I sure knew that from my dad, radio and TV. I was thinking of you when I was reading Mike Fuller’s comment. You might wish to come back here and read it yourself. I’ll bet you two will have a few things to compare! Your site is so interesting getting the backstage report on the people we only see from the front of the stage.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I saw one of those FB postcards the other day. On the left was a picture of Sinatra and lyrics of ‘I’ll be seeing you.’
        On the right was a picture of Justin Bieber and some kind of inane, repetitious words.
        The caption asked where has music gone.
        Generational difference? No! Just a lot of bad music that is being foisted on our teens and preteens today.

        Like

        • Lack of imagination. The “old-timers” HAD to have imagination to keep themselves entertained, nowadays, the kids have it all thrown at them from videos, tv, computers – they don’t have to use their own brains.

          Liked by 1 person

  29. The last time I danced, I was told I looked like Jed Clampett with a bug in his pants! Both of my parents and Grandparents could really “cut a rug”, but I never made it past the Jed Clampett stage. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  30. And the Hi-de-ho man himself Cab Callaway. Love this!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Great nostalgia, GP. When I was in my late teens, I went through a phase of collecting jazz band music. I started with Paul Whiteman, Jack Teagarden, and Chick Webb, moving on to Buddy Rich, Bellson, and Krupa, Louis Prima, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. I saw Tony Bennett with the Buddy Rich Big band in London, and they brought the house down.
    Although I ended up preferring the mellower music of Miles Davis and others later on, I still have most of my original vinyl collection, stored in the loft.
    I was never a great dancer, but loved to watch those who were. This is the sort of thing from my own youth. It has enjoyed a revival in recent years.

    Best wishes from England. Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The old vinyl is making a comeback – wish I had dad’s old collection! The dancing from your youth is somewhat like ours. My childhood was sort of like the movies, “Grease”, “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Saturday Night Fever” all rolled into one.

      Like

  32. A few years ago, I used to host a big band radio show called “Swingtime”. My theme song was “Cherokee” by Charlie Barnet. I love the big band/jazz era music.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. The Stabile brothers, Dick and Joe, were wartime band leaders. Joe led the Army Air Corps dance band and Dick the Coast Guard dance band stationed at Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, NY. My dad played bass fiddle for Dick and Joe later became Jerry Lewis’ manager. Dick backed Dean Martin for a while post war and I have their recording of “That’s Amore” on my MP3 player with a lot of much more 60’s and 70’s classic rock and classic country. Big band music was a big part of the wartime morale boost both here in the U.S. and wherever allied troops were stationed. I’ll bet even the axis troops snuck a listen now and then too!

    Liked by 2 people

  34. I love this so much, you made my day! Love swing!

    Like

  35. Oh my gosh that was great. What terrific experiences you’ve had.
    When I was a child we’d go to the roller rink in the 60’s & the organist would play all those songs you mentioned and I knew all the words because my mother was constantly singing them. My friends would mock me but also laugh that I knew them all. Lot’s of fun. Great post!

    Like

  36. Glen Miller’s In The Mood is just the perfect big band sound and for many represents that era.

    Like

  37. So many good ones–“Cherokee,” “Minnie the Moocher” by Cab Calloway. Mom’s favorite was a “Deep Purple,” sung by Helen Forrest.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Big Band was a little before my time. But my mother had some of Glenn Miller’s albums, which I enjoyed growing up. Perhaps it should be noted that Glenn Miller died in an airplane crash, while flying across the English Channel during WWII. He was there to entertain our troops.

    Like

    • Unfortunately they found his body, but his music will live on. My father and I used to go down to our basement some Saturdays and listen to all kinds of music – opera to dixieland – from jazz and big band to rock! Good times – so different songs bring back different memories.

      Liked by 2 people

  39. My veteran Jacques Morin was a great dancer GP. He told me.
    At each of his postings he would have a new girlfriend, and she had to know how to dance!

    Like

  40. Used to love dancing swing. What a feeling!

    Like

  41. I’m still a fan of Peggy Lee, my grampy was one of her biggest fans and we sometimes sang Why Don’t You Do Right in the car, we were horrible singers, but we did it with out whole hearts :o)

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Ahhhhhh the Jitterbug 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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